Devan has never met her mother Reece Malcolm. All she knows about her is that she’s a bestselling author, likes coffee and bourbon, and lives in or near Los Angeles. But when Devan’s father dies, she’s shipped off to live with this elusive woman she has never met. L.A. is a whole new world for Devan, and that includes the posh new performing arts school she starts attending. But there is so much Devan doesn’t know about Reece–and so much she wants to say–that Devan wonders if they’ll ever approach anything normal.
Spalding’s debut novel could easily fall into the trap of being an overly sentimental novel about a girl’s readjustment after being shipped off to live with her estranged mother, but it never quite succumbs to that particular trope. Although the novel isn’t what this reader would consider a perfect read, there’s a lot going for it, and readers are likely to gobble this warm, frequently funny novel right up.
It helps that the novel is fully grounded in its characters and its sense of place. When Devan (I will never not hate that name, nor its spelling) arrives in Los Angeles, it’s clear that she’s out of her element, both in terms geographical and familial. This is done particularly well in the case of Devan and Reece’s burgeoning relationship, as Reece is a really prickly pear.
Strong character development, especially between Reece and Devan and Brad, Reece’s live-in boyfriend. Both of them are extraordinarily well-developed, especially for parents in a YA novel. Brad and Reece have completely different personalities and styles and yet complement one another. Devan’s fascination in watching them is palpable and authentic.
There are things that don’t totally work here, though. At times, it felt like the plot contrivances were just too convenient to totally buy (Devan’s now-dead, emotionally absent father, her ability to navigate the boys in her new school, etc). It felt, more than anything, a little like lazy plotting. But most readers will be able to overlook this and drink in the details of a book that is often very funny and ultimately very sweet.
Recommended, especially to fans of YA fiction looking for meaty family issues with some lighter stuff thrown in. Especially great for fans of musical theater, as that secondary plot point takes up a fair number of pages. Despite some misgivings about the convenience of some of the book’s events, there’s no denying that this one was fun.
The Reece Malcolm List by Amy Spalding. Entangled: 2013. Electronic copy for review.